For reasons I can’t quite understand, the Guardian newspaper, “the world’s leading liberal voice,” has appointed itself spokesperson for some of the most illiberal forces in London, notably the extremist-dominated East London Mosque and the council leader closely connected to it, Lutfur Rahman (above). Maybe the Guardian likes them simply because the Telegraph doesn’t like them – but even for the left, that seems an outstandingly stupid reason to embrace people who oppose everything you’re supposed to believe.
The paper’s latest panegyric for Rahman, last week (“what inspires and energises me is the community”) was so poor a piece of journalism that it even briefly trended on Twitter. As Private Eye’s Tim Minogue put it, “the Order of the Brown Nose profile of Rahman worth it for comments alone. Readers put record straight – and how! More comments deleted from Guardian toadying profile of Mayor Lutfur than an Alan Rusbridger piano piece.”
The writer, Saba Salman, presented Rahman’s exclusion from the Labour Party as “a gulf between national leadership and grassroots activism,” described the allegations against him as “mudslinging,” and accepted at face value not just his denials of extremist links but his claim not to be cutting frontline services (tell that to, say, the users of the Appian Court day centre in Bow, which faces closure – while new millions are to be poured into religious buildings, mainly mosques.)
So I thought I’d update my earlier summary of the evidence against Lutfur just to remind you of all the things Ms Salman had to ignore. What follows is not mud – but fact, which has withstood literally hundreds of complaints to Ofcom and the PCC from Rahman and his supporters. Let’s hope the Guardian gets back to doing some actual reporting about this subject soon.
March 1 2010: The Telegraph and Channel 4’s Dispatches reveal that Lutfur, then the Labour council leader, achieved the position with the help of the Islamic Forum of Europe, based at the East London Mosque, which works to create a sharia state and an “Islamic social, economic and political order” in Britain. In a filmed interview, he refuses to deny the charge. Under Lutfur, large sums of council money are diverted to IFE front organisations, a man with close links to the IFE is made the council’s assistant chief executive despite being unqualified for the job, and the respected white chief executive is summarily sacked. In undercover filming, senior IFE activists boast of their “consolidated… influence and power” over the council. The local Labour MP, Jim Fitzpatrick, tells us that his party has been “infiltrated” by the IFE.
May: Lutfur is replaced by the Labour group as council leader. The IFE-linked assistant chief executive is forced to resign. However, the IFE now aims to “get one of our brothers” into the powerful new directly-elected mayoral post that is to replace the council leadership in October.
July/August: Lutfur is excluded from Labour’s shortlist for the mayoral candidacy, but goes to court to force his reinstatement. The solicitor he uses was closely connected to the al-Qaeda-supporting group, al-Muhajiroun, and signed a fatwa calling for a “full-scale war of jihad” against Britain and the US.
September 3: In filmed interviews (transcripts here), local residents tell how Lutfur has personally signed up their entire families as sham Labour members to win selection as the party’s mayoral candidate.
September 4: Lutfur is selected as the Labour candidate.
September 15: Evidence is submitted by one of the defeated candidates and others to Labour’s National Executive Committee detailing Lutfur’s links with the IFE and a powerful local businessman, Shiraj Haque, and alleging massive fraud in the selection.
September 18: Lutfur is accused of failing to declare thousands of pounds in donations from Shiraj Haque – a criminal offence, if true. We have been asked to point out that Lutfur was later sent a police letter saying that there was “no case to answer.” However, the complainant, Cllr Peter Golds, insists that the police never investigated the matter seriously.
September 21: Labour’s NEC sacks Lutfur as the candidate.
September 25: Lutfur stands as an independent. Under Labour Party rules, he is automatically expelled from the party. Six of the people who sign his nomination papers have the same names as senior office-holders and trustees of the IFE.
October 15: Thousands of copies are distributed of publicity material smearing Lutfur’s Labour opponent as a wife-beater and an enemy of Islam. The chief coordinator of Lutfur’s campaign, Bodrul Islam, later says that the material was produced by people “embedded” in the Rahman campaign and with its full knowledge.
October 19: Ken Livingstone, Labour candidate for mayor of London, who has also benefited from IFE support, and been personally paid money by Lutfur’s council, campaigns for Lutfur against his own party’s candidate.
October 21: Lutfur Rahman elected mayor. The chief coordinator of his election campaign, Bodrul Islam, later says that the new mayor had a “strategic relationship” with the IFE and “most of [Lutfur’s] campaigners during the election were either Respect or IFE activists.”
October 28: Lutfur furious as the council votes to deny him a 98 per cent pay rise, awarding instead a 71 per cent rise. One of his key supporters, Cllr Oli Rahman, describes it as a “cynical” attempt to “undermine the mayor.”
November 3: Tower Hamlets places CDs of sermons by an extremist Islamic preacher, Abdurraheem Green, in the Town Hall reception area. Green believes that “Islam is not compatible with democracy” and that a husband should have the right to administer “a very light beating” to his wife.
November 10: Lutfur appoints Alibor Choudhury, a former employee of an IFE front organisation with a long track record of encounters with the police, to the key post of cabinet member for finance. Alibor was committed for trial for violent disorder in 2006, but the case was dropped due to what he insists was an “abuse of process.” (Lutfur’s cabinet was, and remains, 100 per cent Bengali, in a borough which is only about 35% Bengali.)
November 14: Lutfur fails to turn up to Tower Hamlets’ annual Remembrance ceremony at the borough’s man war memorial, despite promising to attend. All the borough’s other civic leaders make it. The following year (see Oct 10, 2011 below) he will make front-page news by trying to hire out the war memorial grounds for City bankers’ Christmas piss-ups.
November: Lutfur’s publicly-funded political adviser at Tower Hamlets, Kazim Zaidi, anonymously writes a chapter in an Exeter University report attacking Lutfur’s critics and libelling six senior figures in the Tower Hamlets Labour Party and the local Labour MP as racists. The university is forced to withdraw the report and issue a grovelling apology.
December 2010- February 2011: At council meetings, Shiraj Haque and a crowd of other Lutfur supporters shout homophobic abuse at the mayor’s opponents from the public gallery. They abuse Peter Golds, the Tory leader, as “Mrs Golds” and a “poofter.” They heckle another gay councillor, Labour’s Josh Peck, and a gay local resident speaking at the meeting with animal noises and cries of “Unnatural acts! Unnatural acts!”
January 27 2011: An official Labour Party inquiry finds a “concerted effort” to add fake members to the party during the campaign to select Labour’s candidate for the Tower Hamlets mayoralty.
February 23: Lutfur’s voting bloc on the council passes a motion to “campaign against the pariah state of Israel.”
March 8: Lutfur gives a character reference on Town Hall notepaper for Zamal Uddin, a minicab driver who had six weeks earlier pleaded guilty to a serious sexual assault on a woman passenger. When the press finds out, he claims that he did not know the nature of Uddin’s crime before agreeing to provide the reference.
March: Shiraj Haque is appointed chair of the advisory board for a major council-subsidised festival, the Baishakhi Mela. The council had previously removed him from all involvement with the festival and severed relations after allegations, which he denies, of massive financial irregularities and immigration fraud, with the Mela used as a front to bring in illegal immigrants under the guise of performers.
April 4: Shiraj Haque’s premises are raided by police investigating a major counterfeit wine ring.
April 5: Disclosure logs reveal that the council is paying £50,000 a month of taxpayers’ money to three front organisations for the IFE.
April 12: One of Lutfur’s key supporters, Cllr Shelina Akhtar, is charged with fraud. (She already has one conviction for the same offence.)
April 17: The council’s official propaganda newspaper, East End Life, runs a series of adverts for a training centre closely connected to Anjem Choudhury, the al Qaeda supporter who runs the extremist group al-Muhajiroun.
April 27: Lutfur takes a number of council staff paid by the taxpayer to campaign for the Labour Party in a parliamentary byelection. The District Auditor is called in.
May 8: Lutfur and Shiraj Haque turn the taxpayer-funded Baishakhi Mela festival into a platform for Ken Livingstone, who makes the keynote speech attacking Boris Johnson.
June 8: Defying a new local authority publicity code against taxpayer-subsidised council “Pravdas,” Lutfur rules that East End Life will continue publishing, at a cost to the public purse of around £1.3 million a year.
June 17: As the council passes budget cuts of £70 million, Lutfur spends £115,000 to refurbish his personal office and treble it in size.
July 4: One of Lutfur’s cabinet, Oli Rahman, appears on a platform with a group campaigning for the “unacceptability of homosexuality.” Lutfur has earlier pledged “zero tolerance” against a wave of homophobic attacks in the borough.
July 14: Lutfur acquires a luxury Mercedes and council-employed chauffeur at a cost to council taxpayers of up to £60,000 a year. No other elected mayor in London, Boris Johnson included, has an official car.
July 22: Tower Hamlets loses its second chief executive in two years as its top official, Kevan Collins, quits for a lower-paid job. He praises councillors (but not Lutfur) in his resignation statement.
August 7: The Telegraph reveals that Shiraj Haque has been given a Tower Hamlets council house at the subsidised rent of £135 a week, even though he is a multi-millionaire owning at least eight properties worth around £5 million.
August 8: As riots sweep London, Tower Hamlets’ enforcement officers are given the day off.
Sept 12: Lutfur scraps the official car of the borough’s ceremonial mayor and tells him to travel to functions, in his robes and gold chain, by taxi.
Oct 10: Tower Hamlets hits the front pages after hiring out its war memorial garden for City bankers’ Christmas parties. The decision is reversed after a storm of protest.
Oct 12: The council’s official newspaper, East End Life, promotes an extremist preacher previously banned from speaking on council premises.
Nov 18: A key Lutfur ally, Shah Yousuf, appears in court on criminal charges under the Representation of the People Act for producing the smear leaflets falsely claiming that Lutfur’s main opponent, Labour’s Helal Abbas, is a wife-beater and enemy of Islam (see Oct 15, 2010.) The leaflets were produced with the Lutfur campaign’s full knowledge, according to the chief coordinator of the campaign. The charges are later mysteriously dropped.
Dec 20: An eight-month campaign of complaints by Lutfur to the Press Complaints Commission about our coverage fails, when the PCC rules that he can be described as “extremist-linked” or “extremist-backed.”
Dec 20: The Telegraph publishes Companies House records showing that Lutfur’s cabinet member for the environment, Cllr Shahed Ali, has avoided £25,000 in tax by liquidating his restaurant business, which immediately reopens under a new name and carries on trading as normal throughout. He uses the proceeds of the tax avoidance to buy himself a Porsche.
Dec 21: The Telegraph reveals leaked Tower Hamlets documents showing that Hira Islam, a Tower Hamlets council officer who is also a key figure in the Islamic Forum of Europe, Lutfur’s extremist backers, has been disciplined by the council for interfering with the May 2010 parliamentary and local government elections. Hira Islam is given only a written warning but the man who first exposed the scandal, the former council leader Helal Abbas, is suspended from the council for “breaching confidentiality” – after a complaint by Hira Islam!
Dec 22: The Telegraph publishes pages written on a social networking website by Lutfur’s cabinet member for culture, Cllr Rania Khan, in which she publishes pictures of knives, declaring: “I know it’s not ladylike, but I luv my weapons,” mocks gay people and backs extremist clerics.
Jan 9 2012: One of Lutfur’s key supporters, Cllr Shelina Akhtar, is convicted of benefit fraud – against her own council – for the second time in eighteen months. Despite pleading guilty, she refuses to give up her council seat and Lutfur refuses to call for her resignation until eight days later.
January: A gay pub in Limehouse, the White Swan, says it faces closure after Lutfur proposes to ban its popular amateur strip night.
Feb 6: Shelina Akhtar is finally forced to give up her seat after being jailed for 16 weeks.
Feb 15: It emerges that Lutfur has hired a former adviser to Ken Livingstone, Tony Winterbottom, at a fee of £1000 a day. A key Livingstone crony, Murziline Parchment, is also hired as his chief of staff, even though council headhunters described her as “very unconvincing,” “disappointing” and “lacking in substance” in her interview for a previous Tower Hamlets role. In total, Lutfur employs 16 paid political advisers, more than any other council leader, the Mayor of London, any cabinet minister or the Prime Minister.
Feb 21: As the mayoral election approaches, new concerns are raised about vote fraud in Tower Hamlets after the electoral roll is found to contain up to 12 voters in the same small flat.
Feb: Lutfur refuses to answer questions from councillors at council meetings, with council officers explaining that to do so might breach his human rights.
March 21: It emerges that Lutfur has employed his election agent, Ghulam Robbani, a man with close links to the IFE, as a council advisor at a rate of £40 an hour. Freedom of Information requests show that he appears to have massively overbilled the council for his time, charging for instance £480 – 12 hours’ work – for attending an event that the other participants say only took 90 minutes. Robbani later resigns to stand as Lutfur’s candidate in the Spitalfields byelection caused by the jailing of Shelina Akhtar.
April 16: It emerges that one of the key figures in the IFE and East London Mosque, Chowdhury Mueen-Uddin, is to be charged with war crimes for his alleged involvement in a campaign of abductions and mass murders while opposing Bangladeshi independence in 1971. He denies the charges, saying they are politically-motivated.
April 19: Lutfur’s candidate, Ghulam Robbani, narrowly wins the Spitalfields byelection on an unusually high turnout, despite heavy rain throughout polling day. There is a late surge of applications for postal votes: in one large block, Brune House, Brune Street, the number of people with postal votes more than doubled in the two weeks before polling day. Turnout of postal voters is extraordinarily high: in Brune House, for instance, it is 77 per cent.
April 21: Residents of Brune House tell the Telegraph that supporters of Robbani and Lutfur, including at least one councillor, “harvested” their votes, signing them up for postal votes and collecting the blank ballot papers which were then filled in for Robbani. Council and police investigations are launched.
May: Lutfur steps up his cult of personality. Pictures of him are attached to the sides of council dustcarts. New council headed notepaper is produced with his picture on it. Large banners featuring his face are put up across the borough, including one which covers up an internationally-famous mural on Brick Lane. It is only removed after the owner of the building threatens legal action.
May 27: Nineteen people are arrested at the British High Commission in Dhaka, Bangladesh, accused of attempted immigration fraud in connection with Shiraj Haque’s Baishaki Mela. They admit they paid an unspecified individual £10,000 for fake documents claiming they were attending the mela as stallholders.
July 8: Eight Lutfur-supporting councillors are expelled from the Labour Party in a clear sign that Lutfur will not be readmitted to the party.
July 16: Shiraj Haque is given a criminal caution for selling counterfeit wine in his restaurant.
September: Lutfur announces plans to dispose of a number of pubs owned by the council, including the Queen’s Head in Limehouse, which claims to be the inspiration for the Queen Vic in EastEnders. The pubs, some of the few left in the area, may now be forced to close.
October: The heritage selloff continues after Lutfur announces plans to auction Old Flo, a Henry Moore sculpture gifted by the artist to the people of the East End, claiming it is necessary to balance the books (it later emerges that the artwork may not even belong to the council.) At the same time, however, he announces a £2 million grants programme for “faith buildings” – mostly mosques – and £6 million of further grants to “community organisations,” many of them linked to his supporters, in addition to the large and continuing grants given to front bodies for the IFE.
Oct 7: Despite the council’s pleas of poverty, it emerges that a Tower Hamlets officer has charged taxpayers £855 for two first-class rail tickets to attend a conference in Manchester. This is six times the standard walk-on fare and enough for a return flight to Australia. Some of the money is later repaid.
Dec 21: Defying Lutfur, councillors accept an offer of UN-style “support” from the Local Government Association after the departure of several key white officials and the repeated failure to appoint a new chief executive. Whitehall mulls intervention as the local government minister, Brandon Lewis, expresses “concern” over the situation in Tower Hamlets.
Jan 16 2013: Ken Livingstone is ridiculed by Labour’s National Executive Committee as he urges it to readmit Rahman and allow him to fight next year’s Tower Hamlets election as a Labour candidate.
Jan 16: The former local government minister, Bob Neill, accuses Lutfur and the council’s assistant chief executive, Isabella Freeman, of bringing the local government standards regime into “serious disrepute” by using it to bully, hound and threaten their opponents on the council on trumped-up charges. Councillors vote to discipline Freeman for her “bias,” but it makes no difference and she continues exactly as before.
Jan 23: The broadcasting watchdog, Ofcom, censures five Bengali TV channels after Lutfur’s allegedly cash-strapped council spends thousands of pounds on adverts promoting the mayor, up to 15 times every day for two weeks. Ofcom said: “The purpose of the advertisement was not to inform and educate the public [but] to promote the Mayor in a positive light.”
Let’s hope, at least, that Lutfur didn’t have to pay for his puff-piece in the Guardian.